Harry Karlinsky comes across a name in the London Asylum records which piques his interest. Thomas Darwin. Was he any relation to Charles? He delves deeper into the records and discovers the story of the youngest son, a quiet man who had an obsession with cutlery which slowly drove him insane.
It’s an odd little book. The cover has the word “novel” in a small font and the author’s note acknowledges that it’s fiction but it is otherwise introduced and written as a historical biography. Thomas’ life is intertwined with that of Charles Darwin and it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction, something that is both charming and infuriating, depending on your outlook. It is certainly a unique way to write historical fiction.
I rather liked his theory of evolution of cutlery, there is a lot of sense to it, except for when he starts to become a bit “peculiar” as the editor of Nature kindly put it.
The style is not dissimilar to that of Charles Darwin’s works and there are a number of letters, articles and illustrations throughout like the collected works of one man’s research. It is not told in chronological order, instead divided into sections for his personal life, his work and his illness, much like a real biography.
I really can’t decide if this is genius or not. If you’re looking for well rounded characters and a gripping plot, keep looking. However, if you’re interested in unique ways of story telling or even just Darwinism, give this a try. I think it might bring a smile to your face.
The Evolution of Inanimate also wins the award for best barcode. Admittedly, it didn’t have much competition but I still love it.
The Evolution of Inanimate Objects: The Life and Works of Thomas Darwin (1857-1879) is published by The Friday Project and is currently available in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.